Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese President Xi Jinping has finally visited Wuhan, ground zero of the still-unfolding pneumonic plague, reportedly spending less than 10 hours in the virus-ravaged central Chinese city on Tuesday, before flying back to Beijing in the evening.

Xi’s belated inspection of Wuhan has exposed him to sharp jabs from his foes within the Communist Party, more than 100 days after mysterious infections cropped up in the megacity of more than 10 million at the end of 2019. Xi’s inaction could be due to cover-ups by local cadres, which played a key role in incubating the viral outbreak that has spilled over to the rest of the nation.

Reporters with state media told Asia Times on condition of anonymity that Xi’s whirlwind visit only lasted for a little over nine hours. After touching down at Wuhan’s airport, he was whisked off to a local hospital in a limo fitted with top-grade antiviral and biohazard gear.

The top leader, who was not seen for much of February, the height of China’s war on the rampaging pandemic caused by a novel, highly infectious coronavirus, greeted a group of carefully vetted medical professionals and patients, via video. The meeting took place in a “clean” room in the Huoshenshan Hospital, which was built in 10 days for the centralized treatment of those suffering from severe symptoms.

Xi Jinping went to a hospital in Wuhan but did not visit any wards. Instead, he talked to doctors and patients via video. Photos: Xinhua

Wearing an N95 mask (which is in short supply in the country) that can filter out 95% of airborne viruses, Xi met in person a few people said to be representatives of the doctors and nurses working at the hospital before he left.

To gauge the mood in a city that has been locked down since January 23, Xi and members of his retinue, including a deputy premier and Hubei’s provincial party chief, offered to talk to local residents and frontline workers.

It was revealed that local authorities had dispatched plainclothes and special duty officers to every household in the residential quarter to be visited by Xi, and deployed snipers on rooftops of all buildings in the vicinity.

These layers of security were precautions to ensure Xi’s safety as well as prevent him from losing face. Last week China’s Deputy Premier Sun Chunlan was embarrassed by hecklers as she inspected a separate location in the city. Residents frustrated by the lack of available food and restrictions on their freedom yelled “everything is fake” as Sun passed by.

Thus local officials had to take special measures to prevent a repeat of that disastrous scene when Xi was in town. They ordered officers to guard the balconies and windows facing Xi’s route and muzzle any malcontents that could potentially embarrass Xi.

In fact, cadres had been given a script for guidance as Xi sought to burnish his visage in Wuhan, highlighting his concern for the people and his approachable demeanor. As the nation watched, he attempted to restore his image after being criticized for his botched handling of the response to the crisis.

Xi Jinping greets residents during an inspection of a community in Wuhan. Photos: Xinhua
A Wuhan police agent is seen receiving instructions via his earpiece on the balcony of a residential unit that overlooks a community center, before Xi’s inspection of the facility on Tuesday.
Snipers and other agents are stationed on the rooftop of a building as Xi inspects a nearby residential quarter. Photos: WeChat
A post circulating on Twitter that shows the positions of many snippers deployed in the residential community visited by Xi.

Before Xi was escorted to the airport and flown back to Beijing in the evening, he convened a meeting with senior cadres and hailed the sacrifice made by the people of Wuhan during the ongoing lockdown.

Critics have compared his performance with that of his predecessor, Hu Jintao, who had the courage to visit pandemic-hit cities in Guangdong during the early stages of the SARS crisis back in 2003. Xi, on the other hand, has been accused of shirking his duty, choosing to go into seclusion inside his office suite in Zhongnanhai in Beijing for the better part of February, when leadership was needed to combat the epidemic.

State media, nonetheless, has talked up Xi’s visit as a “momentous event” to buoy the spirits of people in Wuhan.

Yet the fact is that the contagion in Wuhan has shown signs of lulling since the end of last month and it only added 13 fresh cases to the total of 49,978 on Wednesday, with no new infections throughout the rest of Hubei, according to official data.

A file photo shows then-Chinese President Hu Jintao inspecting a hospital in Guangzhou in April 2003, during the SARS outbreak in southern China. Photo: Xinhua

“He dared not to visit Wuhan and was nowhere to be seen during the outbreak, but now he flies to the city for a lame PR show now that everyone knows the city is halfway out of the crisis,” read a post on Twitter.

Yet some observers say the fact that Xi did not spend the night in Wuhan on a trip that appeared to be hastily arranged could also be an indication that the contagion situation there is worse than what is being reported, with the risk of a relapse still lurking.

The warning is partially borne out by a U-turn by the municipal government of Qianjiang, a prefecture-level city of a million residents that borders Wuhan. On Wednesday, officials there revoked a previous note about relaxation of a ban on travel and social gatherings in the city.

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  1. I have sources in Wuhan who told me alot of elderly are still getting sick and dying in mass. Do not believe government news!! Please stay safe out there.

    1. I quote ” According to the WHO on March 6, the crude mortality ratio for Covid-19 – that is, the number of reported deaths divided by the number of reported cases – is between 3-4%. In Korea, as of March 9, that figure was a mere 0.7%.”

      S Korea statistics are reliable because of freedom and democracy but China’s mortality rate of 3-4 % are all lies because people are dropping like flies and the Chinese gov’t is an evil, bat eating, totalitarian repressive, organ harvesting, devil worshipping, yellow commie entity.

    2. The CCP has a history of lying and murdering it’s citizens (60m in the Cultural Revolution), and then jailing anyone who dares to tell the truth – like Dr Li.
      So I’d trust the data from Korea.

      1. You BS. Dr Li was not jailed. Your figure of 60m is BS. It should be 100m or 1 billion, the higher the better. In fact under Mao, China’s mortality rate declined.

        And now Xi is killing his own people by placing dozens of snipers on rooftops, all facing inwards. But in the pics, I do not see any sniper rifles, maybe they are foldable and fit into the pockets.

        Expect the next article to say Xi killed 10m. That would make you happy.

  2. chan pooi hoong wrote “F Chen is an undisguised Xi/China bashing idiot with no credibility. He finds it credible to quote a single post on Twitter probably by a western China basher to support his Xi bashing.”

    The problem with chan pooi hoong is that it believes doctored government statistics. People who have two functioning neurons firing across a synapse, still realise this facade and its inherent danger to global order.

    1. Quoting a twitter guy to support F Chen’s agenda is the way to write an objective impartial article. It is one neuron firing.

      At any one time, there are hundreds of neurons firing, just pick the one that FC likes.

    2. The problem with statistics is you always can make it look favorable to your opinion. In terms of China´s government lying , why does it make you to say that? Do you have some details backing your statement? Probably, not.
      Governments will always lie, whether is China, USA, Russia, the European states or whoever. The question should be who lie the most? For example, Trump´s government lies all the time.

    1. This comrade may have bias but do not hyperventilate by writing BS articles like FC and blasting it to the world with the help of Atimes.

      1. Absolutely right,that idiot Frank C should not be insider rubbish writer.He talk too much,he should go front line,then he wet his pant or going to died.All he wrote moron thought most of the time..

  3. FRANK CHEN don’t try to condemn like your stupid ,moron Gordon Chang and many other irrational thought outside.What the fool you wrote? Xi don’t had to go front line if war there. What about you ?? See how dare you are?? You wrote rubbish ,fortune teller facts .Also don’t be traitor .Go to hell or space as alien.

    1. My dear Ray, real leaders lead from the front. Not from the safety of their bunker surrounded by lots of honey.

  4. HENRI DAY. The images of so-called snipers are from FC and not from CCP.
    You are consumed by anti-CCP HATE.

  5. And you, Dear Comrade, should ask the Wumao to check your English grammar.
    The CCP should close down unhygienic wet markets and practice human animal husbandry. Oh and also make sure the Coolies have flush toilets and wash their hands.
    What a 3rd world country.

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